For the first time since Feb. 29, 2020, fans were able to see Bradley’s men’s and women’s basketball teams play publicly, live and in-person at the Red and White Scrimmage on Wednesday. Renaissance Coliseum played host to nearly 1,000 fans as they received their first impressions of the 2021-22 Braves’ cagers. The scrimmage also marked the first time that the newcomers on both squads could showcase what they can bring to the table this year, as the men’s team eyes its third MVC title in four years and the women seek to repeat as conference champions.
Both teams add plenty of new faces, with eight newcomers apiece added into the mix for Brian Wardle’s and Andrea Gorski’s squads, making the scrimmage even more anticipated. The women’s teams could not have been matched up more evenly, as the Red and White teams played to a 35-35 deadlock after two halves of eight minutes. Determining who won and lost for the men’s team was more of a gray area, as three players were traded from each side halfway through. However, senior guard Terry Roberts led the Red team to wins in both halves to the tune of 13-7 and 15-10, respectively.
Without drawing too many early-season conclusions, here are five takeaways from the debut of Braves basketball for the coming year:
- MBB : Kent could be one of team’s scoring leaders
Sophomore swingman Jayson Kent (3.6 ppg, 1.1 rpg in 2020-21) showed his ability to splash the deep ball and on Wednesday with two threes, which led all scorers in the men’s scrimmage. Last year, Kent burst onto the scene in big moments, dropping 11 points at Missouri and 15 points in the regular season finale against Drake. With junior guard Ville Tahvanainen sidelined for four to five weeks with a foot injury, Kent has been the main beneficiary of more first team reps in practice. Kent scored eight points in Wednesday’s short scrimmage and drained a corner three with an acrobatic contest from senior Ja’Shon Henry right in front of his face right before the intermission. The sophomore came right back with another deep ball to begin the second half, helping prove that he can light up the scoreboard in a jiffy.
With Bradley being more forward-heavy, Kent can pose matchup problems as a bigger guard at 6-foot-7-inches and 205 pounds. For comparison, Kent was listed at 190 pounds last year. The sophomore definitely has the potential to earn a regular starting spot if he can convert on his shifty off-the-dribble jumpers and put his added bulk to good use.
- WBB: Iowan freshman guard duo impresses
Freshman guards Caroline Waite and Sasha Koenig were among the most impressive performers overall in the women’s scrimmage, as both facilitated well in transition and showed no trepidation in pulling the trigger on offense. Waite, a 5-foot-4 guard from Ames, Iowa, added eight points for the White team, second only on the group to All-MVC guard Gabi Haack. Despite her smaller stature, Waite seemed comfortable among her more lengthy counterparts in transition thanks to her speed, even going coast-to-coast for a layup. Koenig, a 5-foot-7 guard from West Branch, Iowa, joins her sister Tatum, a senior, on the team this year. With both sisters playing on the Red team, it was actually the younger Koenig leading the team in scoring with eight. While Tatum has earned a reputation as a floor general and facilitator on the defensive end, Sasha displayed her scoring stroke, which could give the Braves a yin-and-yang combination when the Koenig sisters are on the floor.
MBB: Time will tell on turnovers
It’s sometimes difficult to decipher if turnovers in an intrasquad scrimmage are a result of a team’s stellar defense or subpar offense so no conclusions will be drawn here. On one hand, one could argue that more passes were telegraphed than they should be. But on the other hand, multiple players showed aggressiveness in disrupting passes, especially junior college transfer Malevy Leons (18.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg at Mineral Area Community College in 2020-21). The reigning JUCO Player of the Year used his nearly 7-foot wingspan to his advantage on the defensive end with three steals. Leons and his teammates on the Red squad, namely Terry Roberts, Zek Montgomery and Kent, played great perimeter defense as a unit in the first half before Montgomery and Kent transitioned to the White team after halftime. The Braves, who finished 7th in the MVC in turnover margin last year, may need to clean up their passes before the season begins on Nov. 4 but their length defensively could turn out to be one of their biggest strong suits.
- WBB: Monitor frontcourt situation
The Braves no longer have the services of Emily Marsh and Uche Ufochukwu at the center position and will likely turn to a combination of junior Veronika Roberts (1.0 ppg, 1.1 rpg) and freshman Abbie Draper at the “5” spot this year. Roberts has played 183 minutes over her two seasons with the Braves and better fits the role of a traditional center at just over 6 feet but the key for the junior this year will be to maintain her physical play without fouling. Roberts will be crucial in leading her fellow bigs, as she is the only upperclassman forward on the team who has played a full season with the Braves. Draper can stretch the floor more due to her lean frame and even attempted a deep ball in Wednesday’s scrimmage. Although Roberts is the bigger center, Draper defended her well in the post and displayed her shot-blocking ability when she swatted a three-point attempt from Sasha Koenig and also added an impressive layup over forward Tete Danso on the other end. With much of Bradley’s experience returning at guard, (Gabi Haack, Tatum Koenig and Chloe Rice) finding the right pieces in the frontcourt will be important in their quest to repeat as MVC champions.
- Newcomers aside, both teams will be led by seniors
When senior guard Gabi Haack announced that she was returning for her 5th year, thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, head coach Andrea Gorski likely breathed the biggest sigh of relief in her life. Haack demonstrated that she is the unquestioned leader on the court, leading the White team in scoring and showing incredible hustle on the defensive end. The 5th-year senior showcased a lightning-quick release from behind the arc that was nearly impossible to defend. Haack seemed to always be in the right place at the right time with smart cuts on offense and a drawing a charge on defense. The women’s team will go as Haack goes, especially after the losses of Lasha Petree, Mahri Petree and Nyjah White. The MVC Player of the Year award is definitely within reach for her.
On the men’s side, Ja’Shon Henry has stepped up as the team’s leader, both on and off the court as head coach Brian Wardle has praised the senior forward for being vocal in practices. While Henry has spent most of his Bradley career as a lethal threat off the bench, a starting spot is all but guaranteed this year. The forward scored the White team’s first seven points, opening the game with a rim-rattling two-hand slam that Braves fans have gotten accustomed to seeing from the Canadian over the years. Henry seems to get bigger and smarter during every offseason and the Braves may look for him to take more shots from behind the arc this year.
Braves Bits: Terry Roberts led the Braves’ men’s team in scoring with 10…Roberts showed similarities between himself and former BU guard Terry Nolan Jr. due to his knack for attacking the paint….Junior forward Sierra Morrow, a transfer from Seward Community College, impressed for the women’s team with 11 points…Men’s sophomore forward Darius Hannah had the biggest highlight of the night, a backdoor alley-oop along the baseline… Men’s senior center Ari Boya played limited minutes as the team works to increase his stamina after a season-ending foot injury last season…Hannah also showed off his vertical jump, winning the opening tip over the 7-foot-1-inch Boya…The women’s frontcourt is crowded with Roberts, Draper, Morrow, Tete Danso, and Texas Tech transfer Daija Powell all jockeying for playing time.
Both Braves teams begin their season with exhibition games on Nov. 4. The women’s team will face off with McKendree at 5:30 PM, followed by the men’s team clashing with Illinois-Springfield at 8:00 PM to cap off the doubleheader at Carver Arena.